TEHRAN, Iran – A passenger train partially derailed in eastern Iran early Wednesday, killing at least 17 people and injuring 50 others, including some critically, authorities said.
The report said that the number of victims could increase, although the first details of the disaster involving a train that allegedly carried around 350 passengers remained unclear.
Four of the seven cars on the train derailed in the early morning darkness near the desert city of Tabas, Iranian state television reported. Tabas is located approximately 540 km southeast of the capital Tehran.
Rescue crews with ambulances and helicopters had arrived in the remote area where communication is poor. More than a dozen people were critically injured, and some were transferred to local hospitals, officials said.
Iranian media quoted the governor of Tabas, Ali Akbar Rahimi, as saying that the accident killed at least 17 people and that the number of fatalities could increase when rescuers search the train cars.
Aerial footage of the desert scene of the disaster showed train cars on their side, with some rescuers running on the scene while trying to take care of the injured.
State TV later broadcast pictures from a hospital where the injured received treatment. One of the injured told the broadcaster that they felt that the train suddenly braked and then slowly before the derailment.
“Passengers jumped in the car like balls in the air,” said the injured passenger, who was not identified by state television.
The derailment took place about 300 km outside Tabas on the railway that connects the city with the central city of Yazd.
The report said that the accident is under investigation. Initial reports suggested that the train collided with an excavator near the track, although it was not immediately clear why an excavator would have been near the train track at night. An official suggests that it could have been part of a repair project.
Iran’s worst train disaster came in 2004, when a running train loaded with petrol, manure, sulfur and cotton crashed near the historic town of Neyshabur, killing around 320 people, injuring 460 others and damaging five villages. Another train accident in 2016 killed dozens and injured many people.
Iran has about 8,700 miles of railroad lines through a country that is about two and a half times the size of Texas. The railway system sends both people and goods all over the country, especially in rural areas.
Iran also has around 17,000 annual deaths on its highways, one of the world’s worst road safety records. The high tolls are due to extensive disregard for traffic laws, unsafe vehicles and inadequate emergency services.
Iran, which is already making efforts under US sanctions over its collapsed nuclear deal, has mourned the deaths of at least 41 people killed in a building collapse in the country’s southwest.